HANSON — While it isn’t yet clear how the Delta variant of COVID-19 might effect the town’s October special Town Meeting, holding the session outside is off the table because of annual concerns about mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE).
Selectmen began taking a look at the options during the board’s Tuesday, Aug. 10 meeting.
“We are quickly approaching October, which is crazy to think — especially with the Halloween candy at Shaw’s being out for a few weeks, now,” Selectmen Chairman Matt Dyer said to open the discussion on the venue and format for the Town Meeting, as well as some of the articles planned on the warrant.
Dyer suggested looking to use the gym at WHRHS again.
“That’s why I asked to have [the discussion] on the agenda,” said Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett. “I just thought, if we want to do that, there’s only about six weeks or something, and I thought that went very well.”
School officials helped set up the socially distanced meeting so people felt safe to attend, which helped attendance, she said.
The issues included on the warrant will likely include a residency requirement to the bylaw for all appointed volunteers, which FitzGerald-Kemmett and Selectman Joe Weeks submitted.
The deadline to submit articles for the warrant is Aug. 24.
FitzGerald-Kemmett sought to clarify that there may come a time, when a long-time town volunteer with a great deal of institutional knowledge, may have to sell their home as they age or are renovating a home and have to live elsewhere for a time.
“I don’t want to paint ourselves into a corner,” she said. “I’d like to have some proviso where the board could make an exception knowingly.”
Interim Town Administrator Lisa Green said neighboring Whitman recently passed a bylaw that addressed that exact issue. She said she would reach out to Town Clerk Dawn Varley to obtain a copy of the bylaw and is planning to also contact Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff for her opinion on the issue.
“This is on an exception basis, with the whole board making a decision on a majority vote,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said of the residency article.
A citizen’s petition being circulated may or may not include that proviso, she said.
“If there’s anyone that would like the town to consider a certain article of business, please check in with the town clerk to make sure that you get all the rules and guidelines on how to create a citizen’s petition,” Dyer said.
One petition, by resident Frank Melisi, has already determined to be invalid because of formatting errors, and Dyer said Selectmen were working with him to help correct the errors.
“I would like for us to talk more broadly about citizens’ petitions and come up with a process … to help people, so that they don’t have this extremely frustrating experience of trying to do what I think is the most pure form of democracy,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
Selectmen’s Administrative Assistant Greer Getzen said a lot of towns have formalized a handout to help guide residents through the citizen’s petition process.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said that, in the past, even when the process had been followed, petitions have been awkwardly or inaccurately worded. She suggested that a remedy would be to pass it by town counsel or to Green to make sure the wording was correct.
Green said that would be up to the board.
“I’m just wondering if the board has an appetite to have our town counsel review these at their hourly rate,” Green said. “I’m willing to help anybody out. I don’t want to steer people in the wrong direction.”
She said some towns with larger legal services budgets can make more use of town counsel in such cases.
Selectman Kenny Mitchell said people seeking to introduce a citizen’s petition should reach out to the Selectmen chairman, send it to Green and let the board review it.
“If it’s something that makes sense, it won’t have to go through the citizen’s petition route,” Mitchell said. “We can create an article, if we agree to it.”
He did not agree with offering town counsel services.
Selectman Jim Hickey agreed, but argued that town counsel review should be allowed in cases where the board does not agree with a citizen’s petition.
Weeks agreed with those suggestions, arguing it helps protect the board as well.
“Cover all the bases,” he said. “Maybe we should have a larger, open conversation about the use of town counsel related to these things.”
Weeks also said that, while there is a recall law in Hanson related to elected officials, one does not exist pertaining to appointed officials. He argued removal authority should be built into appointing authority.
“One of the things we’ve been trying to get clarification on is removal of appointed officials at any given moment,” he said. “I think it’s time we had that conversation for the only reason being if we do put a residency requirement in there, we have no backing, from my understanding, to remove them.”
He argued a lot can happen in the span of a three- or five-year appointment if people move out of town.
Dyer suggested the wording of such an action should be ironed out for discussion at the next Selectmen’s meeting.